I’ve been seeing reviews all over the place of Barbara Kingsolver’s new book about eating locally — she’s not necessarily one of my favorite writers, but between this interview over at Salon, and this piece she wrote for Mother Jones I might just have to go get a copy. Here’s a quote from the Mother Jones article:
Supermarkets only accept properly packaged, coded, and labeled
produce that conforms to certain standards of color, size, and shape.
Melons can have no stem attached; cucumbers must be no less than six
inches long, no more than eight. Crooked eggplants need not apply.
Every crop yields a significant proportion of perfectly edible but
small or oddly shaped vegetables that are “trash” by market standards.
It takes as much work to grow a crooked vegetable as a straight one, and
the nutritional properties are identical. Workers at the packinghouse
are as distressed as the farmers to see boxes of rejects piling up.
Poverty and hunger are not abstractions in our part of the world;
throwing away mountains of good food makes no sense. With the help of
several church and social justice groups, Appalachian Harvest arranges
to deliver “factory second” vegetables to low-income families all
summer. Fresh organic produce has entered some of their diets for the
In high summer of 2005 … when the farmers were finally bringing in these tomatoes by the truckload and hoping for a decent payout, some grocery buyers backtracked. “Not this week,” one store offered without warning, and then another. Not the next week either, nor the next. … These tomatoes were perfect, and buyers were hungry. Agreements had been made. But pallets of organic tomatoes from California had begun coming in just a few dollars cheaper. It’s hard to believe, given the amount of truck fuel involved, but transportation is tax-deductible for the corporations, so we taxpayers paid for that shipping. The California growers needed only the economics of scale on their side, a cheap army of pickers, and customers who would reliably opt for the lower price.
As simply as that, a year of planning and family labor turned to red mush.
Our growers had been warned that this could happen—market buyers will
almost never sign a binding contract. So the farmers took a risk, and
took a loss. … Before the tomatoes all rotted away, Appalachian Harvest found a way to donate and distribute the enormous excess. The poor of our county were rich in tomatoes that summer.
“We were glad we could give it away,” one of the farmers told me. “That’s who we are. But a lot of us are barely making ends meet ourselves. It seems
like it’s always the people that have the least who end up giving the
most. Why is that?”
Kingsolver is from the country, from Kentucky, and after a long stint in Tucson she’s gone back home to write and farm. My dream.
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